The leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen may have been killed during a U.S.-led airstrike in early January, American officials said.
“The officials expressed confidence that the Qaeda leader, Qassim al-Rimi, was killed in a January airstrike in Yemen but were awaiting confirmation before making a public announcement,” according to the New York Times.
The report continued:
If confirmed, his death could represent a significant blow to the Qaeda affiliate, which remains one of the most potent branches of the terrorist group. The Yemen branch, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has tried to attack the United States and Europe and is thought to still want to.
The group’s ability to orchestrate or attack targets in the West has atrophied in recent years, as American airstrikes have targeted their bomb-makers and English-language propagandists. But the group, American officials have previously said, remains a dangerous one.
In November, an informant reportedly told the Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA) of al-Rimi’s whereabouts and tracked him using aerial surveillance and other means, according to Fox News.
The 41-year-old became head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in 2015 following a drone strike that killed the group’s then-leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi.
“In 2017, Rimi released an audio recording mocking President Trump, calling him the ‘White House’s new fool,'” the Fox News report said.
Saturday, the president appeared to confirm reports of the terrorist’s death by retweeting, without comment, several tweets about him by SITE Intelligence Group Director Rita Katz:
4)If true, and it seems to be, the dead of al-Rimi would mark a major blow to #AlQaeda on the whole. Al-Rimi was a candidate for succeeding AQ leader Zawahiri.
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) January 30, 2020
Prior to 9/11, al-Rimi spent time in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and later returned to Yemen where he was sentenced to five years in prison for plotting to kill the American ambassador.
However, the elusive terrorist escaped from prison just one year later, according to the Times.
Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran former CIA officer, said if reports of al-Rimi’s death were true, it could mean a massive blow to AQAP’s influence in the region.
“Al-Rimi is an important target, probably more dangerous to Yemen and Saudi Arabia than for Americans given the group’s diminished capabilities during the Yemen war,” he concluded.